This was supposed to be a light day with just Kayak scheduled for 2pm at Grey Lake. But we got intel from dinner crowd the night before that if we hike about 1.5 hrs up north, we will pass a couple of suspension bridge and a lookout for massive glacier view. All of us decided to go for it since we had nothing planned for the morning. Had breakfast at 8 and headed out around 9:45. There was a storm the night before and I felt a bit chilly in the morning so I started hiking hoping to warm myself up. And since we had to get back by 1 pm (bigfoot company required people to arrive at 1pm for training and paperworks), it was a bit of a rush hike and I was able to keep warm soon after we started the hike. The1st suspension bridge was a relatively short one and the 2nd bridge was pretty long and I felt the handrail for the bridge was a bit low for my height. I did get a couple of scares crossing it but we all made it without any issues. And 10 mins from the suspension bridge was the lookout point for Glacier. I was speechless at the magnificent view. We took some pictures and helped taking pics of other people. Met a group of guys with drone footage. Adam was one of them and we exchanged contacts.
Wish we could stay longer but had to start heading back soon to make the 1pm. Tetsu hiked down fast ahead of us and by the time Alli and I got back, Tetsu already had pizza and a couple sodas ordered for us. We inhaled them and went straight down to the spot by the lakeshore for the kayak. We waited good 40minutes before the crew showed up and while we were waiting we got to speak to a couple who were waiting for the boat out of the place. They used to live in oakland and they were finishing up W trek from east to west. And while waiting we also met the kayak crew who were sharing a teacup which is the tradition for the area. We learned the name of the tea is called Mate. I am going to digress a bit here since I want to write a bit about Mate. It is a popular tea in several countries in south america such as argentina, uruguay, paraquay and southern part of Chile. On the later part of the trip I ended up shopping for a mate cup in Santiago and it turns out it’s not that popular there compared to Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales. Adding another item to the list of “so regretful for not buying and bringing back” next to calafate ale.
When the time came to start Kayak, I actually chickened out and Tetsu and Alli went on to do it. My reasoning was that I have never done Kayak and is it really wise to do that in glacier lake. Also the fact that they stopped taking people near the glacier due to safety also made it less attractive for me. So instead of kayak, I went on a short hike around the lake where I could attempt at taking photos of Tetsu and Alli in Kayak. Even though it was a short hike, the strong wind and the steep part of the trail got me exhausted after about an hour. So I headed back to the refugio and took a rest. When I was out for a smoke, met another smoking buddy. Her name is Tabea from Germany and she was doing W solo from west to east. We cross path again in refugio frances a couple night after.
Tetsu’s jibber jabber:
Slow morning. Breakfast at 8.
We met Amy again who said the hike out to the second bridge and the main mirador and back is doable in 3 hours. We knew that the trail out was mostly uphill, and would be slower. So we estimated a max of 1 hour 45 minutes up, and a max of an hour 15 minutes back down, conservatively.
With spirits high, we headed out at 9:45am (a little later than we expected, but not too bad) with a goal of getting to the mirador by 10:30, checking out the view, and getting back in time to grab a bite to eat and head to the kayak location by noon.
Given that we were staying a second night at Grey, we were able to leave most of our gear behind, hiking ultra-light.
We passed an early mirador on the way, which gave us a chance to view the glacier looming larger with every step.
Along the way, we enjoyed some small bridges to help wet our appetites for the two big suspension bridges coming up.
Though a little hard to see in the photo below, Torres del Paine has several sticks with painted top ends (usually red), to help mark the trail. We noticed them early on, but with the trails so clearly worn, the real value of these markers didn’t emerge until our last day of hiking to the Three Towers.
Most of the trails also had a smattering of these metal structures with laser etched altitude maps. Those proved useful milestones throughout our hiking trip in determining how high we’d climbed and how steep the climbs ahead were.
After a good bit of some semi-technical trails (nothing difficult, just some ups and downs, a few rocky areas, and some 5-10 feet ravines to drop down into and climb up out of), we came upon the first suspension bridge.
There was a sign stating that only two people were allowed on the bridge at the same time. A wee bit ominous, but fun to cross.
Not too bad. here’s a shot from the north side.
While it never seemed that dangerous, it was interesting to see the aftermath of mud-slides that must have happened earlier in the year, and the make-shift railings the park rangers had put up to make the trails just a little bit safer for hikers.
And finally, a little over an hour and a half in, we made it to the second suspension bridge.
Here’s the suspension bridge from the north side. As someone who’s naturally afraid of heights, I can admit that just looking at these photos while writing this is giving me shivers.
So, after all that, was it worth it?
Was it and did it remain the absolute highlight of Torres del Paine?
Yes it was
And yes it did.
The distinctive blue color of the glacier is indescribable. It was stunning, and I was awe-struck by the magnificence of it.
You might say that it’s just ice, what’s the big deal?
But it was a big deal for me. I use the word awe-inspiring quite a bit, but there was nothing else on this trip that quite mesmerized me as much as the glacier, and i felt lucky to have seen it.
While hanging at the mirador and enjoying the view, we met Adam and his friends. One of his friends had a drone and I’m sure he got some amazing footage.
After spending a fair bit of time at the mirador, I decided to book it back a little earlier than Kyu and Alli, to try and order a pizza quick so we could at least have a bite to eat before heading down to BigFoot Patagonia (just a quarter mile down from Refugio Grey to the lakeshore), to do the kayak thing.
We got to enjoy a quick pizza and drinks at the restobar, and then headed down to the lakeshore.
We walked down to BigFoot Patagonia too early and had to wait around for a while,
As more folks started gathering, the staff were hanging out waiting for our guide, and this was when we learned about Mate tea. The staff were drinking it, sharing a single cup filled with the tea, and re-pouring from a thermos every few minutes and then passing it on to the next person.
Once things got going, it was super fun. A little bit of safety talk, signing a standard if-you-die waiver, changing into kayak gear, and we were off. It was interesting that for these kayaks, you actually wear the splashdeck around your waist. This may be the norm for kayaks, but for the Alpacka rafts I own, the splash eck is already on the raft, and you just zip it up, so this was new for me.
The next four photographs below are courtesy of Kyu.
In our group, there were 8 of us, four pairs of two person kayaks, plus a main guide and two other support kayakers.
We met Anzu and Gabie. They did the “W” trek from East to West, so they were at the tail end of their jourey. They used to live in Oakland. What a small world!
We also met Deacon and Roe. They seemed as inspired as we were. Deacon works on a tanker.
Alexis Mansilla & Irma Saldivia were two other folks we met. We took photos of each other on the kayaks and exchanged photos via Airdrop later on back at the lakeshore.
Alexis and Irma were heading back to Paine Grande from Grey the same day! After the 2pm kayak, they were planning on hiking 7.5 miles with headlamps! Now that is hardcore.
Later that day, back at Refugio Grey:
to decompress after the day, we went to the smoking area where we met Tabea, from Germany. We learned that for a couple of nights at least, we were staying at the same sites, so we were expecting to see her more often.
After getting cleaned up, we headed to dinner:
We met Ina and Nian (sp?) on a month long vacation from Germany. They seemed a little standoffish at first, but they may have been a little tired, as about halfway through dinner they really opened up and engaged in conversation.
We met another younger couple at the dinner table, traveling for 8 months, 2 months in.
With the table seating some 10 people if I remember right, I didn’t get to interact with everyone, but Alli met with Vittorio, who seemed a little quiet, but we ended up meeting him several more times both at Grey and later at Paine, and he really opened up over time. Alli also had a lively conversation with some other folks, though I missed most of it.
There were others at the table, but as dinner tables go, my memory gets a little fuzzy.
While all the staff were extremely helpful, and were focused on ensuring guests were safe, comfortable, and happy, there were two real standouts who just took friendliness to another level. The first was Fernando. Always serious when doing paperwork or computer, but ready with a friendly smile and willingness to help as soon as you engaged with him.
Thanks Fernando, for making our stay so awesome!
For the other amazing person, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow’s blog post (^_^).
And as we had already turned into tradition, to close out the day at Grey, we had to have our new favorite ale, Austral Calafate